Proposed Redevelopment of the William Smith Warehouse 61/63 Norfolk St
The debate about Liverpool’s heritage never really abates, and with the continuing threat from UNESCO to withdraw our World Heritage Site status it has again been much in the news.
Liverpudlians care deeply about our history, and cherish very much the tangible signs we retain around our city. This applies not only to our great statements of glorious days past such as the Royal Liver Buildings, St George’s Hall, and Lime St Station, but also to the less glamourous and obvious buildings that act as a conduit to both distant and more recent history.
You may be familiar with my (far too many) tweets, most of which are in relation to our history and buildings. My key aim, in addition to fuelling my own interest, is to encourage others to also appreciate our incredible history – that which we can still ‘see’ and that which is confined to ‘print’. Some tweets get more reaction than others but one topic that always generates a response is the loss of what people consider to be a heritage building. A recent example in case being that of Bushell’s Building on Springfield which was recently demolished by Mersey Fire for a steel training tower
Positively though more response comes from a good news story were a building is hopefully to be appropriately redeveloped – William Smith’s Warehouse!
At the time of writing the following tweet has, as you can see, proved very popular:
Baltic Creative has revealed plans to redevelop the unlisted building into a ‘Tech Hub’ for creative and digital businesses.
Planning permission has been granted, a design team appointed, and they are now seeking a main contractor with a view to starting works in November 2017. You can view the planning application here 16F/1133 and the ‘Design & Access Statement’ by K2 Architects here
People will have their own views (I love them) on the architectural/aesthetic merits of the redevelopment but there does seem to be universal approval for the efforts to save the building.
Part of the appreciation for the building comes from living memories of the site as Guinness Export, a large local employer for many years, and also as a result of it being one of a dwindling number of such buildings remaining in the Baltic Triangle (and indeed in the wider city).
A Short History of the Building
The building was built in two phases, the first phase in 1881 a 4-storey storage warehouse. It was then expanded with a 2-storey extension in 1882 along Simpson St and what was the lower part of Brick St. According to historical records the buildings were built by William Smith, a paper stock, metal and general merchant who lived at 78 Gregson St Everton, and later in Great George Square. The 1881 Street Directory lists William Smith, Marine Store Dealer at 61-63 Norfolk Street. A Marine Store Dealer was a licensed broker who bought and sold used cordage, bunting, rags, timber, metal and other general waste materials. He usually sorted the purchased waste by kind, grade etc. He also repaired and mended sacks etc.
Documents then indicate that Smith became bankrupt in 1895.
Fire insurance maps from 1890 show the buildings as a ‘Rag WHSE’ and ‘Rag Sorting’, which suggest the buildings use initially continued unchanged:
The K2 Architects documents say:
‘the smaller section to the rear is of a different style and proportion, suggesting it was used for something other than storage. Our research would suggest it housed a delivery entrance and an office/admin area. The huge 500mm thick walls, highly engineered facade and crafted metal work over the entrance would also suggest this warehouse was of high importance when Liverpool was at the height of its trading days’
Looking at the 1906 map we see the building is neighboured by a ‘Bottle Works’. This at some point became part of Guinness Export Bottling Plant, as did the Smith Warehouse.
By the 1930s the building is listed as a Seed Merchants – A S Hooper, whose name can still be seen above the corner doorway:
I need to do some more research on the Guinness tenancy, but it is apparent that Guinness Export Ltd expanded several times over the years and many have good memories of working at the plant (I would love to hear more), before it finally closed in early 1986 with the loss of many jobs. Local MP at the time Robert Parry would raise this in Parliament in the context of the wider catastrophic Merseyside job losses.
In 1988/89 the main building, which was originally between Brick St and Norfolk St, and which had stood empty for a number of years was leased by Skillian an Australian Self Storage Company. It is now home to Safestore
How refreshing is it, that at a time when developers are so keen to send in the bulldozers, that a local organisation with local interests at heart are prepared to go that extra mile to preserve rather than destroy. Of course, this is not just out of sentimentality but because they feel it makes good business sense and meets the needs of a unique area of Liverpool.
I wish Baltic Creative all the best in their endeavours to bring these buildings back to life, and hope they have good luck in overcoming the inevitable hurdles ahead.
Let’s hope this is not the last such redevelopment in the Baltic Triangle.
…………..a few interesting snippets thanks to people on Twitter:
I see W Smith lived in 30 Great George Square, where my grandfather and uncle lived and worked as GPs. I then worked in Guinness Exports….
You weren’t allowed to drink the Guinness. It was a bonded warehouse patrolled by HM Customs. Instant dismissal or prosecution…. ….nevertheless you came home reeking of Guinness!
We sent Guinness all over the world (a lot of embassies), which is how I knew where to buy it in Greece.
If you are interested in historic Liverpool warehouses I thoroughly recommend reading this book/PDF file